When it comes to loving people toward Jesus, prayer is not optional. Prayer is the primary way we can shift from relying on our own strength to relying on God’s power in our spiritual engagements. It is the means by which our good efforts can unlock spiritual effectiveness.
Loving someone leads to praying for them
In his book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, Richard Foster writes about the practice of intercessory prayer and how it flows first from a spirit of genuine humility and compassion:
If we truly love people, we will desire for them far more than it is within our power to give them, and this will lead us to prayer.
When you and I finally come to realize on our own that we are unable to provide people with what they really need, praying for them emerges as the one truly viable alternative.
Prayer: the secret act of love
Partnering with God for someone else’s good by praying for them is perhaps the most powerful thing you can do to express love for them. French theologian John Calvin explained it well:
Our prayer . . . must arise because we are so bound up in love for our fellow men that we feel their need as acutely as our own. To make intercession for men [and women] is the most powerful and practical way in which we can express our love for them.
6 Scripture guides for loving intercession
As we seek to pray more and more purposefully for those we know who are disinterested in matters of faith, we can look to Scripture for specific guidance. You can pray for:
- Openness to know the truth (2 Corinthians 4:4-6; 1 Timothy 2:3-5). Ask God to shine His light into people’s hearts so they will come to recognize the truth.
- God’s love to be truly experienced (1 John 4:7-10, 19-21). Pray that those you know will want to receive sincere love and that they would clearly experience the love of God in a way that would help them move toward trusting in Jesus. Pray for yourself–that your loving actions toward those who don’t know Christ would help them experience Him in the flesh.
- Receptivity to God’s grace (Romans 3:23-24; Titus 3:4-7). Salvation is a free gift! But we must receive it to experience it. You likely know others who are full of pride or who feel unforgivable. Pray that they would come to recognize God’s greatness and goodness, His unconditional love, and His forgiveness that takes care of our sins and failures.
- Heartfelt conviction of sin (John 16:8-11; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5). Yes. Even today in a world full of people who don’t think they have anyone but themselves to answer to, the Holy Spirit convicts people of their imperfection in relationship to God. You can pray specifically that the not-yet-Christians in your life will pay attention to the work of God’s Spirit in their lives as He points out where sin exists in their minds, words, and actions.
- Genuine steps of repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). Pray that the spiritual explorers you know will humbly turn toward God–and away from the destructive clutches of sin–as God faithfully draws them to Him. Pray that they would sense and know the life-giving conviction brought by the Spirit, not the crushing self-loathing that comes from the guilt and shame of the enemy.
- Deep spiritual roots in Christ (John 15:5; Colossians 2:6-7). When someone you care about is on the cusp of becoming a follower of Christ, pray that their decision will be reinforced by complete surrender and stable faith. Pray specifically that their love of God would grow, that this love would be nurtured through the love and study of His Word and through prayer and relationships with other believers.
Be encouraged! Prayer is not a stark obligation! It is a privilege and priority that can unlock the door of another’s heart.